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Porto to Guimaraes: A Perfect Day Trip
As a child, I was obsessed with the Middle Ages.
Why did I love this time period so much? Think about it! Romantic tales of knights, princesses, magic, and dragons filled my brain. And super exciting quests! Obviously.
Not to mention, I loved reading fairy tales and playing cheesy fantasy adventure games on Nintendo 64. To me, the Middle Ages meant romance and epic battles.
As for the torture and religious intolerance of the Middle Ages? Uh, I didn’t know too much about it until I took a Medieval History course at Rutgers. Then my hopes and dreams were brutally dashed.
But I digress.
Guimarães is a very well-preserved medieval town located outside of Porto. I had plenty of time to spare in Portugal’s northern city and researched a few day trips to keep me busy. I instantly chose Guimarães based on it’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And it was worth it! I think this small town is one of the best day trips from Porto you can do.
Without further ado, enjoy my photo essay depicting a day in medieval Guimarães! This town is a prime example of why you ought to take a solo trip to Portugal in the near future. It’s absolutely gorgeous and safe, as well as easy for even the most nervous solo traveler to navigate.
Enjoy the photos, and I hope you visit soon.
How to Travel From Porto to Guimaraes
First of all, reaching Guimaraes isn’t hard at all especially if you’re coming from Porto. I always feel nervous taking public transportation alone, yet I had no issues tackling Portugal’s train system. Everything is really clear inside the station.
Okay, at the Guimaraes train station, the machine meant to validate my ticket was a little temperamental, but whatever. For the most part the journey was painless. You can do it, I promise.
You can take the train from either Campanhã Station or São Bento Station to reach Guimaraes. Use whatever station is closest to your hotel and then embark to Guimaraes. Most trips are direct so you don’t need to switch trains in the middle of nowhere. So breathe a sigh of relief.
As for prices, in April 2015, the train ticket (return) only cost about six euros and each leg of the trip took about an hour and a half.
Make sure you validate your ticket at the machines – both in Porto and Guimaraes – located on the platforms. The time stamp proves you’re not trying to cheat the system. Portugal (and all of Europe, honestly) doesn’t mess around when it comes to enforcing transportation rules, and an unstamped ticket means paying a horrific fine. Don’t risk it.
What Is Guimaraes Like?
From the Guimaraes train station, it’s a short walk to the center of town. Turn right on any road and go straight ahead. Or do what I did and simply follow the tourists, haha. Awkwardly trotting after the crowd never fails.
Guimaraes is small, quiet, and safe, so don’t worry about getting lost. You’ll know when you’ve arrived in the historical center of Guimaraes because the city’s small streets and buildings look like a scene straight out of a fantasy RPG or Game of Thrones on HBO.
You’re also located not too far from the city of Braga. Lots of tour companies allow you to see both Guimaraes and Braga from Porto, so if you have the money to spare or are dealing with time constraints, it’s not a bad idea to book yourself on one.
As far as the beauty of Guimaraes is concerned, well, I’ll let some of these pictures do the talking for me.
Largo da Oliveira Square
Largo da Oliveira Square is directly in the heart of historic Guimaraes. Unfortunately all the churches were closed during my visit, but the beauty of the square itself, including the well-worn building exteriors and colorful cafes, were enough for me!
Don’t miss Largo da Oliveira Square on your visit. In particular, be sure to check out the Gothic Shrine which commemorates the historic Battle of Salado in 1339.
Honestly, most small European towns have central squares beckoning visitors, but this one embodied the “best of both worlds” since it managed to be very ornate and quiet. I didn’t see anyone promoting tours and restaurants, and the entire experience seemed way more authentic than other squares.
So grab a coffee, listen to the pigeons, and take plenty of pictures!
Visit Guimaraes Castle
Guimaraes Castle was obviously the highlight of my trip to this amazing city.
As you know, I adore castles. I think my fascination is due to me living in the United States, a country where royal palaces and medieval fortresses don’t exist at all.
The Castle of Guimaraes is fortified and old. Very, very, very, very old. Just how old are we talking here? Well, it was built in the 10th century to defend against invaders. The fact that any building is still standing from the 10th century blows my mind.
Furthermore, this castle is also associated with Portugal’s emergence as a sovereign nation. Until the end of the 14th century, many battles were fought here to defend the Portuguese. I can just envision all the knights standing outside the stone walls.
On my own trip to Guimaraes, I arrived to the castle at ten or eleven in the morning. And talk about a real authentic treat!
Hardly any tourists clogged the castle’s expansive grounds. Only the cool breeze and songs of the birds accompanied me. I honestly felt like I hopped into a time machine and was transported to the 10th century. Amazing.
Again, it’s worth it to go early from Porto to Guimaraes. The castle is the most popular attraction in town so plan accordingly!
As you can tell from the sunburned selfie above, I had a grand time running around the castle’s grounds pretending to be Link.
If you’re a budget traveler, then I have great news for you! The castle grounds are free. Yes, free! You don’t need to pay a single euro to touch the old stones or wander along the walls. Awesome, huh?
But if you’re willing to spend a little money, you can pay for a combination ticket to see the Castle of Guimaraes and the Dukes Palace. I guess it all depends on how much you love castles, haha.
Church of São Miguel do Castelo
In addition to the castle walls, there’s a small Romanesque chapel on the grounds that is worth seeing, because it’s the spot where the first king of Portugal – Afonso Henriques – was baptized!
The chapel is also free. Win, win, win.
Interesting enough, the Church of São Miguel do Castelo became very run down in the early 19th century. Now, however, it’s been declared a national monument and safe from further destruction. I always like to hear that these magnificent old buildings are protected. They’re very special.
Finally, a statue of Afonso Henriques – or the Conquerer and first King of Portugal – welcomes you to the castle. The chapel awaits nearby it. I don’t remember the exact location, but trust me, you can’t miss it. Be sure to take plenty of pictures!
The Blue Tiles
As I walked around the city, I noticed several beautiful tiles (much like Porto) as well as religious shrines dedicated to the stations of the cross.
Naturally, these pieces of art added to the city’s medieval ambiance.
However, as I’ve already stated, Guimaraes wasn’t packed with tourists. So you could get close to the blue tiles and take some gorgeous pictures. Some of the shops also sell these tiles if you want to bring home a beautiful piece of art for your kitchen or bathroom. Win/win!
You can even see a variety of shrines scattered throughout the town of Guimaraes. Since I went on Easter Week, Guimaraes had the Stations of the Cross public for visitors to see. Even if you’re not religious, you can still appreciate the beauty and sadness of the artwork.
I could’ve easily stayed the night in Guimaraes. Most churches were closed, and I missed Paco dos Duques de Braganca. But, alas, you can’t have it all, right?
So, extending my visit would’ve been awesome, and I know I need to return here in the near future.
Have you ever spent a day in medieval Guimaraes? What are some of your favorite European small towns? I hope to see you in Portugal soon!
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